The adoption community is an amazing thing. And at NHBO, we love it when we get an opportunity to spotlight someone in the community doing something especially amazing. I recently got the chance to interview someone who is not only part of the adoption community but who is also using her gifts and talents to support other families on their own adoption journeys.
I’d like to introduce you to Natalie Swartz of MaeBeSew. And I am guessing you’re going to be as blessed by her beautiful story as I have been.
1. Tell us a little about yourself.
Hi! I am Natalie… a doll maker.
So fun to say.
Speaking of fun, my husband and I are raising four adorable kiddos ages 9, 7, 6, and 5. My 7 year old is a little behind and my 5 year old is convinced she’s not the baby of the family, so it feels like we have an incredible big sister and then triplets.
My husband is a writer and published his first children’s book, Who Wins. I hand-make cloth dolls, so basically we are struggling artists providing cool toys for kids while raising our own with a method popularly known as trial-and-error. 😉
Through it all, we have a huge heart for adoption and two of our own kiddos are from China. We completed our first adoption at the end of 2015 and our second surprise adoption in the beginning of 2017. My doll shop, MaeBeSew, played a sweet part in it all.
2. How did adoption become part of your family’s story?
We often are asked why we wanted to adopt and I think for me personally, there were just little moments throughout my life that lent my heart towards adoption. At the age of 7, I was often treating my newborn little sister like my own real-life baby doll. I knew then being a mom was the dream.
I recently discovered a high school scrapbook I made in which I cut words out of magazines to say, “It takes the embrace of a mother to change the world.” That has certainly played out on a small scale in my adult life. When I taught elementary school in a poverty-stricken area, I was often more focused on the students who weren’t showing up for class, who were being abused, or didn’t have enough food to eat.
In 2009, my husband and I had our first daughter, Lola, who made parenting look so easy. We laugh about now, saying she tricked us into having three more! She was a dream baby and is the best big sister ever.
In 2012, we had our son, Oliver. He was a mystery baby that left me trying anything and everything to console him and help him thrive. I adored every little ounce of him and was desperate to help his little body. He required a determined parent willing to advocate through a tough system in order to meet his needs. It was through this time that all my little moments in life became a very clear direction, adoption.
My heart broke for children without.
…Without the proper nutrition specific to their bodies
…Without a parent to soothe their 3 a.m. cries
…Without friends and family doing the baby talk you swore you’d never do
…Without medical specialist helping fight for their right to thrive
…Without sweet, heirloom dolls to make life more snuggly
Luckily, my husband’s heart broke with mine and together we said yes to adoption. That yes led us to China to our third child, Mei-Mei and soon after again for Lottie.
3. How did you get started in your business?
The short answer: God pushed me. 😉
Really though, I wouldn’t have been brave enough to start a doll business and I am so thankful for how it played out. Back when Instagram was a new thing, I naively posted a picture of a cloth doll I made for a friend and the response from family and friends was so endearing. By nighttime, I was surprised to see several doll order requests.
It was also during this time we were trying to figure out how to move forward with international adoption, specifically financially. It occurred to me… maybe this was our answer.
Orders kept coming in and slowly but surely I created my own little doll business while teaching sewing lessons to girls in the community. Over the years, I have fine tuned patterns, hand-picked quality materials, added new items, and they’ve all helped our family adopt, not once, but twice!
I am proud to offer a variety of dolls that represent all shades of beauty and medical needs. Dolls with zipper scars and amputation are among my favorite.
4. How do you help in-process families fundraise?
After completing our adoptions, I continued making MaeBeSew dolls to help support our family of 6. And, honestly, it just didn’t feel right that these sweet little dolls would no longer support adoption. It didn’t take but a second to realize these special babes could still have an impact! MaeBeSew Fundraisers were designed and the heart of the business hasn’t changed.
MaeBeSew fundraisers are simple to ensure a hassle-free fundraiser for families.
The gist: Families earn 20% back of all sales in support of their adoption as well as an opportunity to earn a customized doll for their newest addition. Fundraisers are promoted on the families’ social media accounts as well as MaeBeSew and typically last 1-2 weeks. I provide a cheat sheet to help families come up with creative posts, yet always encourage families to let their own voice shine!
When there isn’t an active fundraiser, MaeBeSew still gives a portion of it’s sales to families adopting. It feels great being on the flip-side of fundraising offering a refreshing and easy option for families in the process. MaeBeSew is such a sweet win-win, because the one receiving the doll, the one gifting it, the adoptive family and the dollmaker all benefit in the most meaningful of ways.
Every stitch has meaning.
5. Can you share about a family you were able to help?
I adored my last fundraiser family, the Hiltons. Amanda Hilton was such a dream to work with and her enthusiasm for the fundraiser was so sweet and played out through each post made. She is adopting the most precious little girl ever from China. Check her out on Instagram or find her on Facebook. Her heart is poured into every word she writes so you may grab the Kleenexes.
They had an amazing turnout and earned $600 towards their adoption plus a $100 in products… so little sister now has her own customized doll waiting on her. Not bad for a week’s worth of cute posts – plus all her friends now have really sweet and adorable reminders of how they helped “bring little sister home!”
Amanda and I were able to chat about all things adoption and stayed very connected through the week long social media fundraiser. She once was a stranger, but now a friend. Helping families adopt and staying plugged into the adoption community means the world to me. The adoption community is beyond amazing and I feel honored to be apart of this special group of families.
6. How would you encourage others to get involved in caring for the orphan?
My husband and I married young, made sacrifices so I could work from home with the little kids and went through two international adoptions. We have never had extra money. Because of this, I falsely felt like I wasn’t capable of giving much. Our wallets were empty and our plates felt full.
During that time, I chose one word to focus on for a year. Generous. I wanted to give with intent and a happy heart. I didn’t know exactly what that would look like, but that was a life changing year because of one simple word, generous.
I found saying no to some things allowed me to say yes to bigger things. (Side note parents, especially moms: read Present over Perfect if you always feel obliged to say yes to everyone and everything.) I found I had so much to give besides money. Time, talents and information are all valuable.
When thinking of ways to get involved in orphan care, I’d urge the same approach. Generous. Make this your word. How does generous look for you?
Maybe your generosity means opening up your home to foster care or adoption.
Maybe your generosity means providing meals for a newly home family.
Maybe your generosity means giving $500, $100 or $10 to a family racing to bring home a medically fragile child.
Maybe your generosity is participating in or putting on a fundraiser to financially and emotionally support a growing family.
Maybe your generosity is donating gently used clothes, toys, or medical equipment to a family with a new child.
Maybe your generosity means donating an afternoon to a new family to fold laundry, play with the children so mom can go grab a quiet cup of coffee, or clean bathrooms.
Maybe your generosity is shopping smart. Find small businesses that support adoptive families and businesses that give towards orphan care and prevention, like MaeBeSew.
Maybe your generosity is intentionally staying connected to a friend who is in the trenches parenting a child from trauma.
Maybe your generosity is tutoring a child who is struggling to reach his or her potential.
Maybe your generosity is helping carpool kids or inviting siblings out to a park to play.
The generosity shown to us, not only changed the lives of two incredible girls, but the lives of those lucky enough to know them.
Last, but not least, a big thank you to those shopping small and smart at MaeBeSew, recognizing the impact each handmade doll is making in support of our family, our children’s medical needs, and other families adopting. We hope it always feels like a win for everyone and is a special keepsake for years to come.
If you are adopting and fundraising, please fill out a form so we can partner together! It’s always a blast!
Told you her story was pretty incredible. (Am I the only one that wants to buy all the dolls now?)
If you know someone else doing amazing things in the adoption community let us know – we’d love to share their story here on NHBO!